Category Archives: Culture

Halloween Traditions

Halloween Traditions

Halloween is also known as All Hallows Eve in the Christian Religion, based off Pagan rituals.”  It is quite often celebrated in the Celtic cultures- especially in Ireland.  It is led by the druids in honor of the pagan saint of the underworld Samhain.  November 1st is All Hallows Day, sometimes called All Saints Day.

All Hallows Eve is a festival of the dead; A symbol of the end of autumn.  It is a harvest festival.  It is said this is the only one day that the dead could rise and celebrate with their living family to honor them.  The word hallow can mean to make holy, or to separate out by holiness.

The jack-o’-lantern was used by travelers to guide them in the right direction; the scary face was to ward them away from evil temptation.  At houses, it was used to keep away evil spirits.  Originally, gourds were used; the pumpkin is an American tradition.  It probably originated in Scotland, or Ireland.

Another Halloween tradition is bobbing for apples.  The legend is that the first person to get the apple without their hands will be the first to get married. 

Trick or treating came about from strong Celtic traditions, particularly Scottish.  The dressing up in costumes was mainly done by adults, so the dead could pass unrecognized between the worlds. .  The treat was usually a spirit (the liquid type.)

People ate traditional foods including cabbages, apples, potatoes, nuts, and oats back then to celebrate- very traditional foods in that part of the world. Games, bonfires, fortunetelling, disguises, and tricks are all part of Halloween celebrations in most of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The Catholic Church celebrates All Saints Day, sometimes referred to as All Hollows Day, November 1st.  Some people also celebrate All Souls Day November 2nd to honor family members who have passed away.


Today Halloween combines the ancient histories of past cultures with the cultures of America.  Halloween was brought to America by the Irish Immigrants who were fleeing the Potato Famine in the 1800s.

Originally Published 10-27-11

© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.


Winter Squash

Winter Squash

Winter squash is a fruit of an annual garden plant related to the melon and cucumber.  (Family cucurbitaceae).  It has long stems and broad leaves.  The flowers from the plants are also edible- usually stuffed.   It has an origin of possibly Mexico or Guatemala.  It has been cultivated for over 10,000 years.

As opposed to summer squashes, winter squashes have hard, inedible shells.  The inside of the squash has a hollow core with fully developed seeds that are encased in a stringy membrane.  The seeds have a hard shell.  The seeds are also edible, and are usually roasted first.  The color of the flesh usually is a tone of yellow or orange.  The flesh is denser and tightly compacted.  It is usually sweeter and more strongly flavored than the summer squashes.  When ripe, the squash lose their luster.

Winter squash usually comes into season in October, and lasts until March.  Only harvest when it is fully ripe.  It cannot be served raw.  When cooked, it has creamy texture.  Winter squashes can be steamed, boiled, roasted, pureed, mashed, turned into soup- and the pureed flesh can be used in sweet preparations as well.

Winter squashes can be stored for 6 months.  It is not recommended to refrigerate the squash.  As the fruit ages after picked, the flesh becomes more fibrous, and less dense.

Winter squash are a good source of potassium, vitamins A and C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and copper.

Flavors for Winter Squash

Brown sugar
Cheese, esp. Parmesan
Maple syrup
Olive oil
Parsley, esp. Italian
White Pepper
White Wine

Winter Squash Varieties

Acorn squash – Somewhat oval in shape with a pointed end.  They are ribbed, and range in color.  Most common it has dark green skin, with orange streaks, but also there are white, yellow, yellow with green spots, and multicolored.  These are popular because of their small size–one squash can be cut in half and baked to make two generous servings.  The biggest drawback to this variety is that the rind is quite hard, and therefore difficult to cut.


Autumn squash– A squash similar to pumpkin, and very popular in Europe.  It soft, spongy and looks like it has been flattened slightly.

Banana squash – A ribbed yellow squash, similar in shape to a football. This variety is so large that grocers usually cut into smaller chunks before putting it out.  It’s tasty, but its biggest virtue is the beautiful golden color of its flesh.

Buttercup squash–   A flattened oval squash that is bluish-gray in color, and green overtones.  With sweet and creamy orange flesh, the buttercup is one of the more highly regarded winter squashes.  It has a flavor similar to sweet potato.  The biggest shortcoming is that it tends to be a bit dry.  Choose specimens that are heavy for their size.

Butternut squash – A long bulbous shaped squash with pale orange skin. This variety is very popular because it’s so easy to use.  It has light orange flesh, and a buttery flavor.




Calabaza– Also called green pumpkin, West Indian pumpkin, Cuban squash, toadback, Jamaican pumpkin, crapaudback, ahuyama, zapallo, abóbora, or giraumon.  These are popular in Hispanic countries and throughout the Caribbean.  They’re large, so markets often cut them up before selling them.


Cushaw– A bulbous squash that has bumpy, light green skin streaked with creamy white flesh.


Delicata squash– Also called sweet potato squash, or Bohemian squash.  A long, cylindrical pale yellow squash with orange ribs.  This is one of the tastier winter squashes, with creamy pulp that tastes a bit like sweet potatoes.  Choose squash that are heavy for their size.

Emkwana- These squash look like little tops.  Green and yellow skin.

Golden nugget squash– Also called Oriental pumpkin, or gold nugget squash.  A small pumpkin shaped squash with bright orange skin.  This has a pleasant flavor, but it doesn’t have as much flesh as other squashes and the heavy rind makes it hard to cut before cooking.


Hubbard squash– A large squash with bumpy skin.   Color ranges from pale green to deep orange.  This variety has tasty flesh, but it’s too large for many families to hand and the rind is hard to cut though.  Some grocers cut them into smaller pieces before putting them out.  Yellow and orange varieties have grainy flesh.


Kabocha squash – Also known as Japanese squash, Japanese pumpkin, nam gwa, sweet mama, or kabachi.  This orange-fleshed winter squash has a dark green rind with light green streaks. It’s sweeter, drier, and less fibrous than other winter squash, and it tastes a bit like sweet potatoes.


Mammoth squash– A pumpkin shaped squash that has large ribs.  It ranges in color from white, to dark green, grayish green, blue green, or orange.  This variety can grow quite large.  The ribs are often streaked with color.

Pumpkin- For cooking, use the small sugar pumpkin or pie pumpkin for cooking and baking.  The larger jack o’lantern pumpkin is too watery.  A pumpkin is a large and round squash with deep orange skin, and ribs.  Some varieties look flattened.


Spaghetti squash– Also called calabash, or vegetable spaghetti.   Shaped like a fat oval with creamy yellow skin.  After it’s cooked, you can dig a fork into the flesh of a spaghetti squash and fluff it up like spaghetti.  Though they taste like squash, the “noodles” can serve as a low-calorie substitute for pasta.


Sweet Dumpling squash- A small round yellow squash with green ribs.  Sweet dumpling squash are fairly small, so you can cut them in half, bake them, and serve each half as an individual portion.  The flesh is sweeter and drier than that of other winter squash, and the peel is soft enough to be eaten.


Turban squash–   This squash resembles a turban.  The top half looks like half a pumpkin that is cut in half.  The bottom half has several small bulbous rounds hooked together.  The squash is orange with green and white streaks.  This squash has a gorgeous rind, but ho-hum flavor.  It makes a good centerpiece, or you can hollow it out and use it as a spectacular soup tureen.


Winter Carnival Squash


Let’s Give Thanks

“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.”

  —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

table setting

NiNi’s Squash Pie
-makes 1- 9”pie

1 ¾ cups cooked, mashed and strained/ riced Cushaw Squash flesh
1 tsp. iodized salt
1 ½ cups whole milk
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ginger
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 9” pie crust for bottom crust only, rolled to 1/8” thick and pressed into pie pan (raw dough)

  1.  Preheat hoven to 425°F.
  2. Beat together using an electric beater the squash flesh, salt, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and butter until smooth.
  3. Press pie dough into prepared pan and flute the edges
  4. Pour the custard mixture into to pie dough lined pan.
  5. Bake at 425°F for approximately 45-55 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted into the set comes out clean.
  6. If may still look loose- but will set up firm once cooled.
  7. Best served at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.

Originally Published 11-23-11

© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me for permission to use or reference this work.

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.

St. Patrick’s Day

Cead Mile Failte


One Hundred Thousand Welcomes!!!

 Who is St. Patrick, anyway?? 

It is said that St. Patrick could raise people from the dead, caused demons to die in the sea and carried a magic staff given to him by Christ in a vision.

There are so many conflicting stories about St. Patrick that he must have been at least two men, their stories becoming mingled over time, says the Rev. Howard V. Harper in Days and Customs of All Faiths. “Nevertheless,” he writes, “it must also be true that there was once in Ireland a commanding figure, so magnificent that all myths and legends gravitated toward him even though they were really about other men.”

St. Patrick might have been born March 17. Then again, he is thought to have died on a March 17. He was born in A.D. 373, 386, 387 or 389, and died in either 461 or 492.  The one thing known for sure about St. Patrick is that he wasn’t born in Ireland.

Patrick, who was born in either Kilpatrick, Scotland, or Boulogne, France. He was enslaved by the Gaels at age 16, spending six years tending flocks in Ireland. He escaped, but chose to return to the place of his internment after he had a spiritual awakening. His dreams told him to bring Christianity to Ireland.

He devoted his entire life to that task, and he is credited with bringing the Christian Church to Ireland.

The massive partying that accompanies St. Patrick’s Day in this country is purely an American invention. In Ireland, the day is reserved for religious reflection, starting a three-day period of Christian devotion.

In 1737, the Charitable Irish Society of Boston is thought to have held the first secular celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

An Irish Blessing

May the Irish Hills caress you.

May her lakes and rivers bless you.

May the Luck of the Irish enfold you.

May the Blessing of Saint Patrick behold you.


History of Food in Ireland

The rich history of Ireland begins about 9,000 years ago.  The early inhabitants were hunters and gathers.  Their diet included wild pig, fish eel, birds, eggs, and herbs.

Sometime between 4,000 and 3,000 B.C. agriculture became the predominate way of life.  Animals such as cattle, sheep, goat, and pig became domesticated and such crops as wheat, oat, rye, and barley became the staple crops and diet.  Besides meat, the herded animals were used for milk, hide and to plow the fields.  Butter was made from the milk.  So were cheese curds and soured milk.

Corn was discovered as the settlers discovered how to use the method of stone crushing grain.  With porridge, the Irish were able to incorporate nutritional value such as milk, butter, and eggs.

In the area of Dublin, the diet was more extensive, and included berries, orchard fruits, figs, raisins, and walnuts.  After the Norman Invasion the Irish diet had doubled in nutrients.  It grew to include fine foods such as milk butter, cheese, curds, bacon, sausage, sheep meat, corned beef, lamb, salmon, vegetables, porridge, honey, mead, wine, and ale.

In this time period, the method of brewing ale from barley was discovered.  This became a main item of the diet.

Meat was an important part of the diet: Fresh and salted pork, beef, mutton, venison, and various varieties of game.  Meat was usually only eaten on holy days- and was served with an inch or two of fat.

Honey became a valuable source of the diet.  Bees were considered to be a sacred aspect of the culture.  Oats, dairy, and salted meats dominated the Irish diet until the adoption of the potato in the 18th century.

In the 12th century, the rabbit was introduced into the diet by the Anglo- Norman.  Wheat, peas, and beans also became strong staples of the diet.  Anglo Norman cookery brought the induction of spices and preservation of food.  The blending of British medieval cooking and traditional Gaelic-Irish food brought new recipes and cooking techniques to Ireland in approximately 1171.  By the 14th Century, the cultures of these two cultures blended.  By the 14th Century, the Black Death swept the countryside and pushed the Irish lifestyle into decline.  The diet became poorer, and poorer.  Around the end of the sixteenth century, the potato became the universal and staple food in the diet.  Milk, meat, and oatmeal slowly became displaced in the Irish diet.  Corn also became a main staple of the diet.

The Elizabethans and Jacobeans introduce the pheasant, turkey and the potato in the 16th and 17th century.   Even though the diet varied throughout the country, the diet itself had become more sophisticated.  Milk and dairy products had become essential and part of the religious life.

Social status had a lot to do with the diet.  Foods of the peasants varied greatly from the diets of the wealthy.  The 18th century started the era of refined cuisine.

The 19th century, the potato had become the staple of the diet.  The overdependence of this item partially caused the devastation of the potato famine of the 1840’s.  The Irish came to rely on the potato.  They were stored over the winter to feed themselves, and livestock, especially the pigs.  The potato provided carbohydrates, protein, and Vitamin C.  The diet and economy was beginning to be based on the potato.

In 1845, a terrible bight was discovered eating the potato crops in Ireland.  This blight wiped out nearly 90% of the potato crop.  This caused a country wide spread of famine and disease.  Ireland’s population decreased by half.

After the recovery from the famine, Ireland’s economy became very much commercialized.  They learned how to not become overly dependent on a single food source, such as they had once done on the potato.  The diet changed.  The diet changed to include other such staples as tea, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions, and of course dairy products and eggs

Recovery after this event brought more commercialized production of goods and shopping in the market became more prevalent.  Trading and bartering at the local market was the economical system of the time period.

The 20th century came about with the introduction of fruits.  Tea became an unmistakable part of the Irish culture.

Though the Irish Diet is now more commercialized, the diet still remains somewhat traditional.  Throughout the 1st half of the 20th century, food remained pretty much conservative.  The wide spread famine forced the exploration of foods from the wild.  By the 1960’s, the economy prospered, and allowed more ethnic diversity of the diet.

Today’s Irish diet is a blend of many Gaelic and British traditions.  Food in Ireland symbolizes the togetherness of the people.


An Irish Food Chronology

7,000 B.C.                      Ireland inhabitant by hunter-gathers.

4,000-3,000 B.C.            Agriculture development and introduction of domestic herds.  Farming

economy  established.

2,000 B.C. (Bronze Age)   Introduction of metal.  It is used for making cooking pots.

800 B.C.  (Iron Age)        Emergence of hunting warrior aristocracy.

5th-7th centuries A.D.    Introduction of Christianity and literacy to Ireland.

Cereals and dairy produce staples of  Irish diet.

12th century A.D.            Anglo Norman conquest of South and East Ireland. Increased

agriculture, introduction of built up ovens and use of spices in food.

13th century A.D.            Growth of towns and overseas trade including importation of foodstuffs

16th and 17th centuries     Tudor and Stuart conquests of Ireland.

Introduction of pheasant, turkey and potato.

Emergence of Anglo Irish upper class cuisine influenced by French

and Italian dishes.

18th century                   Era of the ‘Big House’.  Refined cosmopolitan cuisine of gentry co-exists

with peasant diets of oats and diary produce in which potato is

becoming increasingly dominant.

1845                                One third of potato crop lost.  Great Famine begins.

1846-7                           Two thirds of entire potato crop fails.  Famine and disease hit poorer


1851                                Census shows 1 million died and 2 million emigrated during Famine.

Late 19th century        Rapid commercialization means availability of processed goods in rural

areas, especially tea, sugar, and white    bread.

1914-18                          War Tea and white bread staples in many households.

Early 20th century        Restaurants or eating houses on the increase in urban areas.

Reluctance to eat traditional dishes seen as “famine foods”.

1960                                Economic prosperity means package holiday and encounters with

ethnic foods.

1980s and 90s              Irish supermarkets stock diversity of multicultural foods from

Mediterranean and the East.

Resurgence of traditional Irish products:  seaweeds, shellfish and

farmhouse  cheeses.


  • Allen, D (1995) The complete book of Irish country cooking.  New York:  Penguin Studio.
  • Bayless, T.  (1995, March 17).  Just who was St. Patrick? St. Petersburg Times. 8
  • Connery, C. (1995, May/June).  Food before famine. Ireland of The Welcomes, 44 (3), 21-24.
  • Reeves, J.  (1995, September/ October). A farwell to famine. Ireland of The Welcomes, 44 (5), 30.

Originally Published 3-17-11

© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.

Valentine’s Day

The Legend of St. Valentine’s Day  

 There are many different Legends of the origin of Valentine’s Day.  One of the most common ones is from Ancient Rome.  Valentine, a Roman priest, was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity.  He died on February 14, 269AD.  Coincidently, February 14th was a holiday to honor the queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses, Juno.  The Romans knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage.  February 14th was also the day that had been devoted to love lotteries.  When Valentine was martyred, he left a note to the jailer’s daughter, whom he befriended.  It was signed “From your Valentine”

In the United State, Miss Esther Howland is given credit for sending the first Valentine Cards.  Commercial Valentines were introduced in the 1800’s.  Today, Valentine’s Day is a day to show your loved ones how much you care for them.  Flowers, Cards, Chocolates and Candies are common Valentines gifts.

  Common Aphrodisiacs

Spices such as aniseed, cardamom, fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves
Raw eggs
Herbs such as sage and rosemary

                                                   Chef Denlinger’s Oysters Rockefeller 
18 oysters on the half shell, loosened from the shell
¼ cup butter
¼ cup small diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pound fresh spinach stems removed, and chopped
2 heaping tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons anisette liquor, such as Pernod
4 strips of bacon, cooked until crispy, and crumbled very fine
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, as needed

In a small saucepan, melt butter.  Sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add Spinach, and cook until slightly wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir until evenly distributed.  Using a whisk, slowly pour in milk, stirring constantly.  Simmer over low heat until slightly thicker than heavy cream.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.  Line oysters on the half shell on a sheet pan.  On top of each oyster, put a drop or so of the anisette liquor. Top each oyster with spinach mixture, about a tablespoon on each.  Sprinkle a little bit of the crumbled bacon on top. Combine bread crumbs and melted butter, then sprinkle crumb mixture over oysters. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Originally Published 2-14-11

© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger       All rights reserved

Please contact me if you wish to receive “Food For Thought” in your mailbox.